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Dec 20 2012

Some summary thoughts of my own about the SCC niqab decision

Earlier today, I wrote a quick summary of this morning’s Supreme Court of Canada majority decision that says judges may require witnesses to remove their niqab to testify in court. The majority laid out some specific issues that should be considered when making such a decision, including the broader social context of requiring victims of abuse to violate their religious beliefs in order to see justice, and the “chilling effect” that such a practice may have. In this post, I want to briefly touch on the two dissenting positions, and provide some of my own thoughts and concerns.

The LeBel dissent

Summary: the niqab should be removed in all circumstances

This one is pretty clear-cut: no niqabs in court. Justices LeBel and Rothstein throw their full weight behind the principle that an accused person has the right to a fair trial, and that allowing someone to cover her face for religious reasons is a contravention of the principles of fundamental justice. They point to the courtroom as, for all the potential drawbacks of such a system, an adversarial environment where the accuser is already foregoing some basic comforts in the pursuit of justice. While removing the veil may be uncomfortable, this discomfort does not trump the right of an accused person to avail hirself of the same court system that applies to all Canadians.

People who are particularly uncomfortable with the idea of Sharia courts should find some ideological home in this position.

The Abella dissent

Summary: the niqab should be allowed in all circumstances

The reason why this was a 4-2-1 decision rather than a 4-3 decision is because Justice Abella dissents from the majority saying that it does not go far enough in protecting the accuser’s rights, whereas the LeBel dissent says it goes too far.

Justice Abella notes that there are a number of other circumstances where the ability of a prosecutor to elicit a real-time facial response from a witness is compromised. For example, some people require an interpreter to respond in English – jurors are required to take their non-verbal cues from the interpreter rather than the witness. And yet we do not consider these cases to be violations of the principles of fundamental justice. The requirement to remove a veil is therefore not well-justified by the central argument of the Crown, and certainly does not outweigh the burden placed upon a testifying witness by forcing hir to violate her religious beliefs.

People who are hot under the collar about “victim’s rights” should side with Justice Abella.

As I said in the first of these posts, it is fairly clear that while the Court may have ideological divides, these are more about how the law is interpreted than they are symptoms of a liberal/conservative split. Neither the majority or either of the dissenting opinions line up directly with a “progressive” or “conservative” cluster of beliefs. The fact is that a split court means that justice will be applied in a split way at the aggregate level, with some lower court judges deciding to compel the witness to de-veil, and others allowing the veil, based on the merits of the case and the temperament of the presiding judge. My own inability to decide on what the court should do is mirrored in the court’s own similar inability.

Interestingly, the Court agrees with the Crown argument that facial expression is needed for a fair trial not based on scientific evidence (very little was offered during the course of the trial), but based on legislative and court precedent. This is admirable from a legal perspective – courts are supposed to interpret the law based on precedent set in other cases – but less admirable from a social justice perspective. The “precedent” the court and laws set has been based on a history of European (specifically British) colonialism, which would obviously not make allowances for the niqab or any non-European/Christian religious expression. If anything, relying on precedent in this way simply carries forward an imperialist definition of ‘fairness’ and ‘credibility’ into an age where the population looks very different.

I must confess that I am more alarmed by what the court doesn’t say than I am by what it does. I saw no mention of the fact that the vast minority of sexual assault cases ever see the court, and within marginalized groups that number is likely to be even lower. It seems to me that the court should be doing what it can to lower barriers to justice, especially in the absence of rigorous evidence that covering one’s face necessarily damages the ability to ascertain credibility. Maybe the SCC simply does not feel that it is the court’s job to do that (that it is rather a legislative or law enforcement issue), but they don’t even talk about it. I find that troubling.

There is some comfort to be taken for secular activists in this ruling – namely, that the SCC has (once again) affirmed that a sincerely-held religious belief is not an immediate trump card over other rights. There has been much consternation that Stephen Harper would pack the SCC with ideologues and institute the theocracy we know he secretly wants. As much as I despite Mr. Harper and his pro-stupid agenda, I have found precious little evidence that instituting a god-centred government is among his priorities. I also fail to find Republican North Party talking points in any part of this decision, and nothing that suggests to me that a particular political agenda, rather than a legal one, was behind the reasoning.

This ruling should also please those folks who are particularly concerned about “judicial activism” by an “unelected” Supreme Court. This is the opposite of that – a court that basically offers no position on this issue and suggests that individual judges should be empowered to make decisions on a case-by-case basis. Anyone like me who was hoping that the court would be more ideological will be disappointed, but it reflects the reality that the law is an imprecise instrument, and is basically nothing more than an agreement that we will, as a society, try to do our best to make life fair.

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45 comments

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  1. 1
    davidhart

    Aren’t there already a fair few studies showing that juries are (perhaps unwittingly) swayed by the appearance, in particular, the physical attractiveness, of the person testifying, or the person standing accused? In which case, this particular issue could be lost in the statistical noise. But I’m interested in whether juries are more or less likely to find a be-niqab’d witness persuasive. This could easily be tested, by having the same person present the same evidence with or without niqab to lots of different mock juries, and see how they rate them (averaged, of course, over lots of actors, each doing half their trials with and half without the niqab). If it turns out that juries systematical distrust the testimony of a witness in a niqab, then banning them in court actually biases the trial in favour of the accuser, so it is in their interest to live in a society with such a ban in place, even if it feels uncomfortable should they ever need to testify. If there is no difference, then … well, there is no difference, so no ban is justified. If, however, juries are more likely to favour the testimony of someone in a niqab, well then we have a tricky problem. Do we ban them because they bias the jury against the accused? Do we mandate that everyone, Muslim or not, who testifies in court should have their face covered, since it will cancel out the jury bias towards more physically attractive people? Or do we do nothing, a situation which will be hard to maintain in a world where everyone has either something to gain or something to lose depending on whether the accuser wears one? Sadly, I have no answer. But I think the experiment would be worth running if no one has already. (I tried googling ‘niqab court experiment’, but most of the hits are for this particular court case)

  2. 2
    Jean

    The only real solution is to get rid of the niqab everywhere. However, that’s a whole different can of worms.

    In the mean time, I’m also torn because as much as I hate all the religious symbols that diminish women, I also wouldn’t want to put any barrier in the way of having more women get justice.

  3. 3
    mythbri

    @Jean

    When it comes to cultures I didn’t grow up in, I feel very uncomfortable telling women what diminishes them. I happen to believe that sex work is diminishing for me, but I can’t tell another woman who feels empowered by it that she’s doing it wrong. You should read Crommunist’s last comment on the previous post, about the niqabi who wear the veil as an expression of their cultural identity.

  4. 4
    Suido

    I applaud the court’s trust of individual judges to treat each case uniquely, and I hope the spirit of the ruling doesn’t get abused by lawyers trying to game the system for their clients.

    I can see this resulting in every similar case getting appealed by the losing side in the hope that another judge will interpret the context differently.

  5. 5
    Jean

    @mythbri

    Good point. And it is difficult to see past some biases like these. I have a hard time understanding how someone could be or feel empowered by what was definitely a symbol of submission. But that’s my own failing and it’s good to be reminded of that.

  6. 6
    DeepThought

    The Lebel dissent is correct. The right to a fair trial is fundamental and bedrock to a free society.

    The accused’s right to a fair trial trumps all other considerations, including those of “sincerely” held religious beliefs. Just like a child’s right to health trumps the “sincerely” held beliefs of his Christian Scientist parents.

    I saw no mention of the fact that the vast minority of sexual assault cases ever see the court, and within marginalized groups that number is likely to be even lower. It seems to me that the court should be doing what it can to lower barriers to justice.

    Not at the cost of a fair trial.

    Justice Abella is way off base. Even in the presence of an interpreter, a jury can still see how the witness reacts to the questions posed by the interpreter.

  7. 7
    Jean

    I should add that what I find problematic is that it is still a symbol of submission and oppression for some and some oppressors do take advantage of the claims of empowerment to dismiss their opponents.

  8. 8
    Guillaume Muller

    I don’t think Harper wants to introduce religion anywhere close to actual power circles. He uses them, but I suspect he has seen what they did in the south. He loves Power, not god. Too many ideologues, religious ones especially, would restrict his ability to maneuver. That’s why he keeps his distance with the religious right.

  9. 9
    left0ver1under

    In BC, witnesses have been allowed to testify from behind a screen, their faces visible only to the judge. The reason is to protect the person testifying from further trauma by the accusers.

    http://www.justicebc.ca/en/cjis/understanding/how_it_works/hearings/testifying.html

    It makes me wonder why this wasn’t allowed in the case being discussed. Or are only children allowed that protection? Or only in BC?

    The accused can hear the person’s voice, knows who it is. I don’t see how a screen “violates the right to a fair trial” any more than the face covering. All that really matters is that the witness IS the person called to testify and the identity is verified.

  10. 10
    left0ver1under

    That should say:

    protect the person testifying from further trauma by the accused.

    I hate typos.

  11. 11
    Crommunist

    The accused’s right to a fair trial trumps all other considerations, including those of “sincerely” held religious beliefs.

    This was never at issue. Nobody has said otherwise.

    Just like a child’s right to health trumps the “sincerely” held beliefs of his Christian Scientist parents.

    Interestingly, Canada doesn’t find a right to health within the Charter.

    Even in the presence of an interpreter, a jury can still see how the witness reacts to the questions posed by the interpreter.

    I love it when people say they know more about the Charter than the Supreme Court, but leaving that aside for a moment, what if you have a witness with a stroke? Or flat affect disorder? Or social anxiety disorder? Or any other number of things that would cause them to behave differently than an able-bodied and neurotypical person? Are those trials unfair? If so, how so? If not, then how is the niqab different?

  12. 12
    Northern Free Thinkers

    Davidhart and Leftver make the most damming comments, specially since they are contrary opinions, which leads us to the true philosophical problem which is posed here. Our justice system stipulates that an accused is allowed to see the face of his accuser (as opposed to black people being accused by hooded KKK back in the day). Hiding ANY part of one’s identity in a trial should be illegal.

    As for BC’s wall, it is in all ways the same debate as the niqab, IMO if one women can hide her identity from the accused because she is in fear, then ALL women, NO matter their religion, should have that right.

    Whatever the decision, it needs to be universalised, not personalised. We want no part of a “personalised” justice system. We want no part of a 2-tiered justice system, no matter if it’s First Nation men getting away with murdering and raping First Nation women and getting away with lighter punishments, or Sharia law. Either way, a 2-tiered justice system ends up failing women the most. In order to equality to exist, we must have universality.

    So the question is really: Is the justice better served by exposed witnesses or hidden. The question here should nave no religious. Muslim women should have no additional rights than non muslim women.

  13. 13
    Giliell, professional cynic -Ilk-

    There is some comfort to be taken for secular activists in this ruling – namely, that the SCC has (once again) affirmed that a sincerely-held religious belief is not an immediate trump card over other rights.

    Well, couldn’t they affirm that somewhere else that isn’t the back of the victim of sexual abuse?

    Yeah, rights of the accused. Sure.*
    But how come that the victim has apparently never ever any rights at all?
    The hurdles to jump get set higher and higher and higher, especially for minority groups.

    *Actually, many of those “rights” are more of a convention than an internationally acknowledged right. Many countries don’t do triel by jury at all and they don’t stand accused as having an unfair system.

  14. 14
    Crommunist

    But how come that the victim has apparently never ever any rights at all?

    That’s quite a stretch, and lies well outside anything stated in this ruling. “Balancing competing rights” is not the same thing as “not having any rights at all”.

    Actually, many of those “rights” are more of a convention than an internationally acknowledged right

    There are a lot of rights that aren’t internationally recognized. That doesn’t make them become somehow less of a right.

  15. 15
    stuartsmith

    I’m curious, if the justification for disallowing head coverings is that seeing a person’s face allows you to better discern their degree of honesty (a dubious assertion with ordinary people, who science tells us are terrible at that task) then why not just give witnesses the option of a polygraph in place of a visible face? I mean, polygraphs aren’t perfect, but they are certainly more accurate in detecting lies than a layman’s attempt at face reading.

  16. 16
    DeepThought

    Interestingly, Canada doesn’t find a right to health within the Charter…

    Neither does the U.S. in the Constitution. This does not negate parents’ legal duty toward their children. So your point is?

    I love it when people say they know more about the Charter than the Supreme Court…

    The Supreme Court in the U.S. gave us Plessy v. Ferguson (“separate but equal”), Dred Scott v. Sanford (African-Americans not citizens and not protected by the Constitution), Goesaert v. Cleary (illegal for women to work as bartenders), etc., etc.

    But how dare I suggest I know better than the U.S. Supreme Court, right, and suggest that it was (gasp) wrong?

    Unless you’re going to pull the Canadian exceptionalism card and suggest that of course Canadians are so much more fair-minded than Americans, and so criticizing the U.S. Supreme Court is fine and dandy, but how dare one criticize the Canadian Supreme Court.

    The money quote from the majority decision is this:

    There is a deeply rooted presumption in our legal system that seeing a witness’s face is important to a fair trial, by enabling effective cross-examination and credibility assessment.

    This presumption would need to be overturned in order to allow women to testify with head coverings.

  17. 17
    left0ver1under

    Northern Free Thinkers –

    If you’re against screens for witnesses, what do you suggest be done to protect witnesses from intimidation?

    Children are allowed to testify from behind a screen because the defendants may intimidate the witness simply by staring, by prior threats they made (e.g. “If you tell anybody, I’ll kill you”). How many times have people spoken openly to police and prosecutors behind closed doors, only to freeze on the stand or recant their statements, resulting in guilty people going free? I hope you’re not suggesting that adults cannot be intimidated.

    If the defendant and his lawyer know who the witness is, that should be enough legally to protect their rights. And if it’s important for the judge or jury to see the face of the witness, then a screen would justify forcing the removal of head scarves. How is that not enough to guarantee a fair trial? Better yet, put the screen around the defendant.

  18. 18
    Crommunist

    But how dare I suggest I know better than the U.S. Supreme Court, right, and suggest that it was (gasp) wrong?

    Except that you say “Justice Abella is wrong” without saying WHY, other than the fact that you personally disagree. And when you conjure a fictitious right to health and simply assert (in the total absence of any justification whatsoever) that a right to a fair trial trumps all other rights, it’s hard for me to take your legal reasoning seriously.

  19. 19
    mythbri

    @Deep Thought

    The presumption that being able to see a witness’ entire face is an integral part of evaluating testimony is a weak one.

    What about jurists/prosecutors/judges that are on the autism spectrum and have a difficult time correctly interpreting non-verbal cues? Should they be prohibited from participating in the justice system? What about the visually-impaired? Do we place an emphasis on good vision over fair and impartial deliberation? Do we disqualify from testifying individuals with paralyzed faces or other impairments because that would somehow degrade their testimony?

    Accommodations are made in lots of different areas, and I’m just not seeing how this specific case cannot be accommodated.

    The niqab is an item of clothing. It is, in some cases, an expression of modesty – not of fear. This woman doesn’t wear the niqab so that she can “hide”. She’s wearing it because that’s what she wears. It’s how she considers herself to be properly dressed. Respecting that doesn’t get anyone closer to Sharia law or any such nonsense.

  20. 20
    jesse

    I’m curious about something, and it’s partly because as I go through the posts I might be missing some difference between US and Canadian law, so forgive me here if I am saying something stupid…

    It seems to me that the whole controversy doesn’t need to be one. That is:

    – In the US, the right to see the accuser is there not because of any magical ability to tell if someone is honest via seeing their face, but so that you can know that the person accusing you is, for example, someone you’ve actually met. You can’t charge someone with rape or murder and say “We can’t tell you who is saying this” because that just opens the way for abuse. A similar issue comes up with witnesses. So it seems to me the identity of the accuser or witness is important to have available.

    – That said, verifying the identity of a witness or accuser isn’t that hard. There are all kinds of workarounds and they are often used in sex-assault cases or when prosecuting the mob and trying to protect witnesses there. For example, not publishing the names of victims in rape cases is pretty common. In terms of in-courtroom stuff, having a witness / accuser verify their identity for a judge and testifying behind a screen doesn’t seem to be that problematic. I mean, the airport guys at JFK will have a woman undo her niqab for a second to make sure that she’s the person on the ID. You could always do something similar in the court — say, “please go over there and in private show the bailiff or defense lawyer who you are.”

    Is Canadian law stricter about showing one’s face to the courtroom? (And yes, there have been similar issues in the US, but none to my knowledge has reached the Supreme Court — most of it has been decided at the local level). Or is the reasoning different in Canada? Like I said, in the US the reason for the right to face one’s accuser was to make sure the government didn’t pull any shenanigans by having secret charges filed, not just to see people’s faces.

    (I should add: there is one social component as well. Facing one’s accuser publicly was designed to make people stand by their accusations as well; the old “Would you say that in front of a hundred people” or “would you say that to my face” thing, and to offer the accused a public forum in which to refute the charge.)

    While it’s nice to have prescriptive measures that we like to think apply to everyone, sometimes you have to take things on a case by case basis. This might be one of those. After all, we don’t crow about “treating everyone the same” and force people in wheelchairs to mount the witness stands, or make people who don’t speak English testify without an interpreter. Accommodating wearing a niqab or any other face covering, religious or otherwise, seems pretty easy to do.

    (By the way, if you are worried about people hiding their faces, you might consider men with beards. I have no idea what the faces of at least two members of ZZ Top look like).

  21. 21
    Crommunist

    @jesse – This case is not about whether or not you can be anonymously accused of a crime. Anyone who is suggesting this has not read the decision, or even my coverage of it.

  22. 22
    Gregory in Seattle

    “… jurors are required to take their non-verbal cues from the interpreter rather than the witness.”

    This strikes me as odd. I’ve done jury duty a few times; in the states, the rule is that anything which happens in open court is fair game unless the judge tells us explicitly otherwise. Presumably in cases with interpreters, we are allowed to observe and take cues from both the speaker and the interpreter.

    The big issue in Washington State regarding the rights of sexual assault victims is when the accused is standing pro se. US jurisprudence very firmly allows a defendant to act as his own trial lawyer, just as the US Constitution gives the defendant an absolute right to face his accusors. The problem comes up when a defendant uses these rights to terrorize his previous victims. There was a situation early this year when a rape victim, in the middle of the trial, fled the court room, went out a window and took to a ledge when she found out that she could do nothing to prevent her pro se rapist from asking her very intimate questions in court. I think that she ended up dropping the charges, which was what the defendant intended.

    Balancing conflicting rights is never easy.

  23. 23
    DeepThought

    @19:

    OK, let’s try this. Logically, step by step.

    1. In the U.S. Constitution (and I presume a similar thing exists in the Canadian Charter) no one is to be deprived of liberty without due process of law.
    2. In the USC (and I presume a similar things exists in the Charter) due process of law, for one accused of a crime, includes certain rights, such as the right to counsel, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to a fair and impartial trial.
    3. The USC includes the right to freely practice one’s religion without interference or penalty from the government.
    4. However, this right has never been held to be absolute; this right cannot infringe on the legal rights of others. Examples:
    4a. Practitioners of a religion which involves human sacrifice will be charged with murder.
    4b. Practitioners of a religion which involves the withholding of necessary medical care from children by parents will be charged with child abuse or neglect. (Yes, contrary to your assertion, children do have the legal right to receive the necessities of life from their parents or caregivers, and there is a corresponding legal duty on the part of those caregivers to provide them.)
    4c. Practitioners of a religion who, knowing about instances of child sexual abuse by their inferiors, fail to notify civil authorities and fail to remove the perpetrators from positions where they are able to cause harm, will (or should) be charged with obstruction of justice, misprision of a felony, and will be sued for damages.
    Therefore:
    5. Practitioners of a religion which involves the giving of testimony in such a manner as to impede an accused’s legal right to a fair trial and to cross-examine witnesses can be compelled, under penalty of contempt of court, into another manner of providing such testimony. The right to freedom of religion is not absolute and cannot impinge on an accused’s right to a fair trial.

    Justice Abella is wrong because no argumentation is provided as to why the legal precedent that seeing a witness’s face is important to a fair trial should be overturned, except for the fact that in some cases the ability to elicit a real-time facial response is compromised. However, even in those cases the jury has the ability to see the witness’s face throughout the entirety of the proceedings.

    The idea that bedrock rights such as the right to a fair trial can be set aside or minimized if they are seen to get in the way of social justice is completely anathema to me and is the mantra of totalitarian states everywhere. Nor does doing so actually advance the cause of social justice anyway. One of the reasons, for instance, of biased and unfair treatment by the criminal justice system of minorities is precisely because they are denied the right to a free trial.

  24. 24
    DeepThought

    Sorry last post was supposed to be @18.

    @19:

    In that case why even bother with having a jury in the courtroom at all? Why even have a courtroom? Just have the witnesses deposed, with a judge available to handle objections from prosecution or defense counsel. And then just have the jury pore over the transcripts plus evidence exhibits and arrive at a verdict that way.

    But that’s not the way our justice system works, and for good reason.

    And, my guess is that prosecutors would be the very first to object to this. They want to make it personal to the jury – to show the jury a real-life crime victim in person – to show the jury that this is not some mere academic exercise, but that it matters on a personal level.

  25. 25
    mythbri

    @Deep Thought

    You’re acting as though a length of cloth is somehow akin to a Cloak of Invisibility, or the Cone of Silence.

    A niqab does not disappear a woman from the courtroom. The identity of a woman wearing the niqab is easily established to the satisfaction of the court and its proceedings. If a woman in a niqab has accused someone of assaulting her, it was likely that she was wearing the niqab when the assault occurred. The niqab is not donned specially to hide her face from the accuser.

    A niqab does not negate the presence of the woman wearing it. She is there, confronting her assailant, and her assailant is there, confronting their accuser.

    I still don’t see what the issue is.

  26. 26
    jesse

    @Crommunist – I wasn’t saying it was about anonymity of accusations necessarily — the same thing could apply to witnesses as well.

    If I am understanding this case correctly — and I am open to the idea that I am missing the plot — the whole point of the right to face your accuser so that you effectively cross-examine them. Otherwise why have that right at all? Since that is the conflict you described in your other post — that between the right of religious expression and that of facing your accuser — I mean, did I miss something?

    Establishing that a witness is who they say they are is a part of that. After all, you wouldn’t want a masked dude saying “Yeah, I saw my good buddy Crommunist stab that guy to death 30 times when we were out for beers last week” and be unable to establish that you knew him or not, you know? I’m not saying that was the kind of circumstance in this particular case, I’m just using that as an example.

    “The central conflict within this case surrounds the Section 2 right of all Canadians to freely express their religious beliefs, with the right of an accused person to have a fair trial.”

    The decision then goes on about facial expressions and credibility — i.e. the ability to cross-examine. (After all, determining a witnesses credibility is the whole point of a cross-examination, no?) I don’t think they are right necessarily that seeing a face is so important — my point was that establishing identity is the real kicker as far as fair trials are concerned, and once that’s done you can work around the other stuff.

    That’s why I am a little baffled as to why there can’t be relatively simple workarounds, done case by case as the situation warrants.

  27. 27
    Northern Free Thinkers

    @ 17 Leftover
    It’s not about “my” legal opinion but about how our justice system is designed. Deep thought (24) posed this in the best language, if the accused need not be able to view the witness in one or some cases, why bother at all. Courtroom procedures need be universalised not personalised. The right to a fair trial should not play second fiddle to the special requests by witnesses, that means different accused get different justice, that is fundamentally wrong.

    That being said, if there were to be a long term legal study of hidden witnesses versus exposed witnesses and how this impacts decisions and it turned out that hidden witnesses improved the delivery of fair justice, then I say go for it, but for the moment, the accused rights should not be trampled on by the witnesses rights.

    I of course make an exception for people who are not legally adults. As for staring, believe me, that if ever I’m falsely accused by anyone, I will be shooting bullets at that person with my eyes, and as a falsely accused, to not be able to see those accusing me would be pure hell.

  28. 28
    Northern Free Thinkers

    @Mithbri
    If a woman in a niqab has accused someone of assaulting her, it was likely that she was wearing the niqab when the assault occurred.

    In Canada 9/10 women are murdered by their loved ones or friends, NOT strangers. Niqab are not worn in the home they are for the public. Niqabs are surely not often worn during rapes or honour killings. Honour killings are done at or near home, in order to punish the woman for not wearing a niqab. The acceptance of Canadian society of women of lesser rights will lead to yet fewer rights for these women. Niqab = death.

  29. 29
    mythbri

    @Northern Free Thinkers

    You’re right that I neglected to consider the fact that most women are assaulted by someone they know, and usually an intimate partner or family member. I didn’t account for the fact that in that case, the woman would not have been wearing a niqab (unless the assault occurred in a public space, of course).

    But I suggest you ask niqabis whether they think that their veils equal death. Punish people who violate the law, by abusing or killing others, for whatever reason.

    Don’t you think that women should not be dictated to, whether it’s to wear something or not wear something? Let them choose freely, and facilitate an environment in which they can.

  30. 30
    Northern Free Thinkers

    @mythbri, they don’t choose to hind behind sheets, they do so under duress, under threat of death. People do not choose slavery and submission. Free choice is a myth widely propagated in religious circles and in cars with Johns.

  31. 31
    mythbri

    @Northern Free Thinkers

    Wow. And given that, any woman who chooses to wear a one-piece instead of a two-piece swimsuit is doing it under coercion, too? And any woman who chooses an ankle-length skirt over a mini-skirt is also coerced? And any woman who even chooses a skirt over pants is doing it under duress? Any woman who shaves her legs or armpits is being oppressed, then? Any woman who chooses to wear a bra is doing it because she’s been threatened?

    ALL adherence to cultural identity and norms and/or styles is slavery? Really?

    When did all niqabi elect you to speak for them?

  32. 32
    Northern Free Thinkers

    @mythbri, come now, be rational here for just a second, nobody is threatening to kill me if I wear the wrong beach attire. If you confound personal fashion choices with mandated religious attire you are not the person I thought I was I was conversing with!

    Do you not understand the concept of honour killings? Not wearing one’s mandated niqab (or any other facial covering) is a major reasoning for honour killings. It is not a fashion choice, it is a regressive law.

  33. 33
    mythbri

    @Northern Free Thinkers

    I do understand the concept of honor killings (intellectually – nothing can make me understand why someone would kill a member of their own family for breaking arbitrary religious “rules”).

    Do you understand that I prefaced each of those examples with “if a woman chooses” or some variation on that? Do you understand that you disappear the voices of women who choose to wear the niqab, just because you have decided that every instance of the niqab is coercion, oppression or slavery? Are those women influenced by the culture in which they were raised? Absolutely. But don’t assume they are universally too stupid or afraid to make their own choices regarding their wardrobe. That is also patronizing, and removing their agency.

  34. 34
    Northern Free Thinkers

    @mythbri, come one now, cease the misrepresentation of my words. I never said they’re stupid. I said that under threat of death choice is an illusion. It takes courage for a muslim women who’s community has veiling laws to not ware one, those are the women I support, those breaking with ridiculous patriarchal rules.

  35. 35
    Northern Free Thinkers

    @mythbri, come on now, cease the misrepresentation of my words. I never said they’re stupid. I said that under threat of death choice is an illusion. It takes courage for a muslim women who’s community has veiling laws to not ware one, those are the women I support, those breaking with ridiculous patriarchal rules.

  36. 36
    mythbri

    @Northern Free Thinkers

    I support those women, too – absolutely. What they do can be incredibly dangerous for them. But telling women what NOT to wear is just as presumptuous as telling them what TO wear, and I can come to no other conclusion, based on what you’ve written here and on Crommunist’s other post, that you would prefer to tell all Muslim women that they are NOT to wear niqab (or any variation thereof).

  37. 37
    Northern Free Thinkers

    @mythbri. Open faces is a fundamental aspect of our culture, except at certain parties and Halloween. It’s an aspect of culture I back, it contributes to the degree of personal safety Canadian women value. Face covering is a step backwards in time for women of this country. Should we women of this country accept going backwards in our hard earned fight against patriarchy, no. Families that choose to follow backwards religious dictates about clothing should live in countries where that is deemed normal. We cannot have different sets of legislation that favour any cult that comes around. Upon entering this country, immigrants ought be told that Canadian ethics and culture consider face coverings to hamper women’s rights and is not acceptable. The immigrants can choose knowingly if they still want to chose to live in Canada.

  38. 38
    mythbri

    @Northern Free Thinkers

    Open faces is a fundamental aspect of our culture, except at certain parties and Halloween.

    How about in the dead of winter, when people’s faces are freezing? Is covering them with scarves okay with you?

    Why didn’t the Canadian government force the Quebecois to start speaking English, then? Wouldn’t that be more reflective of the bulk of Canadian culture? How about the First Nations people? Should they have to abandon any cultural practice that is deemed “backward”? Should they be considered “cults” instead of tribes?

    Why not force all immigrants to love hockey and maple syrup, too?

    You sound as if you think the Canadian Supreme Court was going to mandate niqab for ALL women, and not just Muslim women. I always thought diversity was a Canadian value.

  39. 39
    mythbri

    Excuse me – I said this:

    You sound as if you think the Canadian Supreme Court was going to mandate niqab for ALL women, and not just Muslim women.

    When I meant to say this:

    You sound as if you think the Canadian Supreme Court was going to mandate niqab for ALL women, and not just accommodating Muslim women in certain legal situations.

  40. 40
    Crommunist

    immigrants ought be told that Canadian ethics and culture consider face coverings to hamper women’s rights and is not acceptable

    I’m a Canadian. Do not presume to speak for me. I find this kind of xenophobic “assimilation or GFTO” attitude to be decidedly ANTI-Canadian. And if you don’t like it, I suggest you go back to Europe.

  41. 41
    jose

    How about the First Nations people? Should they have to abandon any cultural practice that is deemed “backward”?

    Yes. I don’t care what number their nations are. We are humans first, citizens second. Harmful cultural traditions don’t get automatic respect just because they’re old.

  42. 42
    jose

    “telling women what NOT to wear is just as presumptuous as telling them what TO wear, and I can come to no other conclusion, based on what you’ve written here and on Crommunist’s other post, that you would prefer to tell all Muslim women that they are NOT to wear niqab”

    What the ban makes is to take all the power away from the people who enforce its use. People can’t enforce the niqab after the ban because the government has banned it. This creates a circumstance where the former enforcers start to get used to the idea that they don’t get to do that anymore, which makes taking it off easier. This should be reinforced in other ways. Once the oppressive mentality behind the niqab is gone, one generation or two later, then you can allow it back so women are actually free to wear it or not without fearing consequences. In short, banning is the only way the government has to create a social climate in which a realistic free choice is possible.

    As for just who these enforcers are anyway, a quote:
    “If one puts uncovered meat out in the street, or on the footpath, or in the garden, or in the park, or in the backyard, without a cover and then the cats come and eat it, is it the fault of the cat or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem … If she was in her room, in her house … being chaste, the disasters wouldn’t have happened. The woman possesses the weapon of seduction and temptation.”
    - Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali, Australia’s Mufti

    That’s the mentality that can’t be allowed in a free country. People with this mentality must be stripped from any power to enforce it on others.

  43. 43
    jose

    Forgot to add the link for the quote.

  44. 44
    Northern Free Thinkers

    @crommy
    I’m a female born in Canada and have lived in half of Canada’s provinces and territories. You are the typical walk all over me Canadiana… let’em all come here and let them dictate how our culture will be, let Canadians shut up. Well no thanks. We females have worked very hard for the advancement of women’s rights and I have no intention of letting those rights slide. Facial coverings encourages muslim men to think they have power over their women and can kill them when they don’t obey, that is not acceptable. Honour killings are on the rise in Canada and will rise faster with this type of legal morass. It is one thing to move here and just continue on with a stupid rule from your home country, it is an entirely different thing to birth new females here and teach them this sort of BS, it is child abuse to teach an infant girl to cover herself so the males won’t get too excited and want to rape her. It’s not unlike that lady in the USA who’s just been fired, maybe she should have worn a facial covering, might have made her less sexy and she might not have lost her job????
    Facial coverings are not to protect females, they are to empower males, and females who buy into such males need to be empowered to get out of that BS. Otherwise we are just enabling them.

    @mythbri, with each of your arguments, you descend farther and farther into ridicule. No, Canadians do NOT wear balaclavas in the courtroom, nor at work, nor in school. In schools, all students are required to remove all headgear. This is a country who’s rule of law says you do not cover anything above the neck in formal settings. You trying to cite more ridiculous examples gets us nowhere.

    And you really stepped in it when you mentioned languages in Quebec, you really need to read a history book. England (not Canada) left frenchies under the tutelage of the Catholic church (French was an aside) in order to «appease» the «frenchies» in order to better control them and keep them down, to prevent rebellions and uprisings. Quebecers bought into that fantasy and lived under the thumb of the powerful Catholic church for a very long time before the Quiet Revolution came around and people gave the church the boot. It was this same process that revived Quebecers’ will for sovereignty. Before that frenchies were not encouraged to get an education, keep a person in the field, keep the women barefoot and pregnant, those are the methods to control a people. However, educate those people and they will rise up, men and women free themselves of religious dogma and undue power the more they educate themselves.

  45. 45
    Crommunist

    Facial coverings encourages muslim men to think they have power over their women and can kill them when they don’t obey, that is not acceptable. Honour killings are on the rise in Canada and will rise faster with this type of legal morass.

    Yep, keep digging…

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